Walking Goto Islands: a Travel Diary

Diaries of a nine-day walking trip to Goto Islands off the coast of Nagasaki.

Table of Contents

    ____________


    Day 1: Naru Island

    Night ferry to Goto Islands, arriving at Fukue Island, day trip Naru Island and visiting Egami Church.

    __________

    I am writing this sitting in my room at Hostel Ta Bi To, in the tiny town of Tomie on Fukue Island, the largest of the five islands of Goto Islands Archipelago.

    Te To Ba closes at 4 p.m.

    I just finished my breakfast in the cafe next door, Te To Ba, which is also run by the hostel owners. The owners who moved to Goto Islands from Tokyo right before the pandemic did an excellent job converting two traditional Japanese-style houses into a hostel and a cafe. Not only does their initiative makes Tomie a wonderful and attractive base for travelers who wish to explore Fukue and other islands of Goto by offering a cozy alternative to the standard hotels located in the center, but it also adds greatly to the liveliness of this tiny town where the cafe, with delicious Japanese style breakfast/lunch and baked goods, relaxing music and friendly owners, serves as a daily hang-out venue for the locals (who also seem to always happy to come across a foreigner visiting their modest fishing village).

    This is the first of my travel diaries that I plan to post on a daily basis during my nine-day stay in Goto Islands, where I plan to do some island hopping and walking as much as I can.

    In my latest Letter from Japan, I named Goto Islands my favorite island destination in Japan:

    What I love about the Goto Islands is the opportunity to experience traditional rural fishing village life while having access to beaches on par with those in Okinawa and historical sites linked to a critical phase in Japan`s history not very well known to the outside world. When you visit an island off mainland Japan, you get to experience one or two of these facets (traditional rural life, nature/beach, and historical sites), but rarely all three.

    I have been looking for an excuse to return here since my first visit in March 2022. Thanks to an email from the HR department at my office reminding me that I have some paid leave days that I must, by law, use until the end of March (music to my ears), I am now back here. 

    After a relatively cold winter in Tokyo, where my physical activity was limited to a treadmill in the gym, I was looking for a place where I could do a lot of walking without any planning. Hiking in the mountains was not really an option; in early March, there is still snow, and even if not, the scenery is not yet very enticing. And I did not want to visit a city. So Goto stood out as the perfect option: milder weather than Tokyo for outdoor walking, decent accommodation options for solo travelers, and low traffic on the roads (that pass through fishing villages and beautiful farmland), making it easier to use your legs for transportation rather than the bus as much as possible, and many cultural sites (mainly linked to Hidden Christians of Japan) that I could set as day’s walking goal. Thanks to a reliable ferry network, there are also plenty of opportunities for day trips to smaller islands where I can also do some walking/sightseeing. So here I am.

    __________

    On this second trip to the islands, I skipped the more conventional way of traveling to Goto Islands (flying to Nagasaki and then getting on a ferry/jetfoil or another short plane ride). Instead, to save some money and cover the distance at night to not lose daytime and more than anything, for the experience, I first took the 5.30 p.m. Shinkansen from Tokyo Station that took me to Hakata/Fukuoka in five hours. I then took a taxi and caught the Taiko night ferry departing from Hakata (Fukuoka) and traveling to Fukue in eight hours through the night (with stops at Ojika, Shin-kamigoto and Naru Islands).

    Early morning hours at ferry Taiko.

    Traveling on a ferry in Japan feels like time travel, and I highly recommend trying one. The small arcade featuring various video games, the carpet floors, and the velvet-covered sofas make you feel like you are traveling in a museum. But it is a very living one – all the facilities on the ferry are enjoyed to the fullest by the passengers. When I walked onto the ferry at 11 p.m., the vibe felt like the opening hour of a bar and/or off-main street casino (not that I have ever been to one).

    The ferry Taiko departs daily, and I naively thought there would be very few passengers, given the more convenient and quickest modes to travel to the islands and the season. In my shared room with eight capsules, all but one were occupied. In night ferries, you can book a private room, get a sleep capsule in a shared room (as I did on this trip), or book the floor-style seating in the common area. The price difference between a capsule bed and a common area sitting was only 2.000 Japanese Yen.

    The capsule came with a TV (!), an electricity plug, and an adjustable reading light. Honestly, I was not expecting any of it. While the first 2-3 hours of the ferry ride were very challenging due to the choppy waters, I could still get 4 hours of sleep and felt ready to start a new day when the ferry docked at Fukue Harbor a little after 8 a.m.

    __________

    After putting my luggage in an automatic locker and getting some breakfast (sashimi) from the nearby supermarket, I boarded another ferry that took me to nearby Naru Island in 30-minutes. The sky was mostly cloudy with sudden bursts of sunshine occasionally, and the weather was unusually cold for the Goto Islands – icy wind, almost requiring a face mask (not that I had any).

    My purpose in visiting Naru Island was to visit Egami Church, often referred to as one of the most beautiful wooden churches in the country that I did not have a chance to visit during my first trip to the islands. The four-hour round-trip required to walk to the church from the ferry terminal felt like an ideal plan to kick off my first day on the islands.

    Designed by architect Yasume Tetsukawa, who was responsible for the design of many of the churches from the same period- Egami Church is one of the twelve components of sites listed as UNESCO World Heritage under the heading of Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region. Egami Village, where the church is located, was once home to a community of Hidden Christians of Japan who moved to remote Goto Islands to avoid persecution during a period when Christianity was banned in Japan.

    The church was initially built in 1906 by the villagers soon after the lifting of the ban on Christianity using materials that would suit the climatic conditions of the region. In 1916, it was renovated according to Tetsukawa’s design.

    I visited many of the churches located in the Nagasaki region that were built during the same period. And I think Egami Church, with its idyllic location by the ocean, its simple yet alluring design, and the trees that affectionately hide it (as if Christianity is still practiced in secret), is the most beautiful one and worth the trip to Naru Island.

    The route from the terminal to Egami follows the ocean almost the entire time. I wish it were a sunnier day so that I could enjoy the scenery more.

    After my return to Fukue, I did a quick grocery shopping and moved to Tomie to settle in my room. I wanted to have an early night, but my body and mind, after a long night of traveling, a good walk during the day, and the excitement of the trip, were too wired to give up to sleep easily. But when it did, it was sure a delightful and deep one.


    Day 2: Re-visiting Dozaki Church

    A church by a heavenly cove, magura sashimi feast and late afternoon stop at Ohama Beach.

    __________

    After a good night’s sleep, thanks to the absence of choppy ocean waters, my second day on the islands started with a pleasant surprise. Despite the weather forecast showing a full day of gray clouds, there were blue skies, and the temperature was also 10 degrees higher than the previous day. I trust the Japan Meteorological Agency (usually correct with their weather predictions) so blindly that I was fully prepared for a bad weather day. Oh well, no complaints.

    My plan for the day was to take the 10 a.m. bus to the Fukue Port and then walk the 10 kilometers to Dozaki Church. The estimated walk time was 2 hours, and I knew there would be many photo stops.

    Thanks to the owners of Te To Ba, who open the cafe as early as 8.30 a.m., I could start my morning at the cafe, having a Japanese breakfast set (rice, raw egg, miso soup), catching up with the owners and hearing the good news that their business was recovering after the devastating impact of the pandemic.

    The night before I could finish the very non-Goto related book that I was reading (something about the Twitter ownership saga) and could start the Silence by Shusaku Endo that I saved to read on this trip.

    Soon, I was on my way to Dozaki Church. While there is no separate walking path other than the occasional sidewalks between Fukue and Dozaki, I highly recommend that you walk part of the route to Dozaki and not drive/ride the bus all the way. You will pass by beautiful green fields carpeted with yellow daffodils (it could also be another flower, do not trust me), and traditional Japanese houses with well-manicured but admirably natural-looking tiny gardens. The second half of the road follows the ocean, where the small fishing boats keep you company until you reach Dozaki.

    Dozaki Church, while not listed among the 12 Hidden Christians-related sites registered as UNESCO World Heritage, is one of the most popular among all the churches, and for all the right reasons. Located at the edge of a beautiful cove, the red brick structure of Dozaki appears almost like an oasis from afar as soon as the narrow road turns towards the cove’s opening. With the blue waters and palm trees, the atmosphere feels strangely Caribbean on a sunny day.

    According to the book In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians by John Dougill, the church’s location was intentional. At a time when there were not many inland roads, people heavily relied on maritime travel and traveled to the church by boat. Dozaki Church, just like Egami Church that I visited the day before, was also built soon after the ban on Christianity was lifted in Japan in 1873.

    By 1970, the church became redundant due to the opening of churches in more convenient locations, and the authorities planned to demolish it. Thanks to the efforts of a priest from Nagasaki, it had instead been converted into a museum. When I first visited Dozaki in 2022, the museum was not open due to the pandemic-related restrictions. It is now open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (entrance fee is 300 Japanese Yen).

    __________

    Dougill, in his book, notes that many of the artecraft displayed in the museum, including medallions, rosaries, and candleholders dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, were handed over for free to the priest who put the museum together by visiting local villages one by one and asking for objects from the era of the ban. People were happy to contribute to the museum and preserve the history of their families. However, it would now be impossible to collect these objects due to the increased cultural interest and collectors market developed in Tokyo and other parts of the world focusing on the era of Hidden Christianity in Japan. 

    __________

    Despite the occasional wind, it was a sunny day, and I would have loved to spend more time near Dozaki. But the options, as usual for rural Japan, were rather limited – one pastry shop and one very hipster-looking coffee shop that I have never seen open. So I got back to the main road and walked down to another cove, where I stumbled upon a seafood restaurant/wholesaler. 

    Open only on weekends, Okuura (奥浦海鮮直売所) serves sashimi, sushi, nigiri, shellfish, and all kinds of fish – the catch of the day – along with ice cold draft beer. Each table features a grill where you can also cook your own fish. Knowing that Goto is famous for maguro (tuna fish), my favorite fish to consume as sashimi, I kept things simple and ordered a maguro sashimi set. It was delicious, very filling and cost only 800 Japanese Yen.

    Having had a good walk of 3-hours, I then decided to take the bus back to Tomie and got off a little early to do some beach walking. After a short walk on the hard sand of Ohama Beach and a short chat with two young boys who traveled to Goto from Tokyo and Osaka (and who were about to have a little happy hour on the beach), I returned to my room in Ta Bi To. Thanks to the unexpectedly good weather, it was an exceptionally lovely day.


    Day 3: Fukue Island, taking the long route and reading Silence

    Visiting modest Miyabara Catholic Church and reading Silence by Shusaku Endo.

    __________

    I woke up to another sunny day, and this was the first day since I had arrived on the islands that I felt the need to take off my jacket while walking.

    After catching up with some work emails and a quick breakfast in the common kitchen of Hostel Ta Bi To, I took the 9 a.m. bus to the northern part of the island.

    My plan for the day was to walk from Miyabara Catholic Church to Kishikumachi by taking the detours to Miyabara Observatory and Dondon-Buchi Waterfalls.

    The plan worked out nicely. While I had sunny skies and dry weather for the walk, some (very) dark clouds accompanied by a shy rain showed up as soon as I reached the bus stop. My first stop, Miyabara Church, was built in 1971 to honor Miyabara’s history as one of the settlements for the Hidden Christians of Japan.

    The church is strikingly modest. If it was not for the cross visibly standing out, one would have difficulty telling that it was a church but not a modest one-bedroom housing. The door was open, and I could tell that the church was still fully operating, possibly every Sunday (not the case for every church on Goto Islands).

    __________

    After the quick stop at the church, the hike up to Miyabara Observatory took around 20 minutes. While you get a pleasant view of the vast ocean and the narrow cliffs, this is one sight you can safely skip if you are short on time. 

    The road then followed Toki Bay, where several people were doing day fishing. Unable to resist the secluding sunshine and the mesmerizingly blue water, I sat on the stairs of one of the docks for a good twenty minutes and had an (unnecessarily) early lunch.

    __________

    Soon after, I was climbing up to the forest road that went through, unfortunately, a planted forest (very common in Japan). I, however, still enjoyed the change of scenery. Only two cars passed by, making the road feel like a designated walking route.

    In an hour or so, I arrived at the signpost for Dondon-Buchi Waterfalls and took the detour. I have to admit that the sight was a little underwhelming (I did not even take any photos). I could have hiked a little further to see if the scenery got more exciting, but strangely, the atmosphere felt a little eerie, and I felt the urge to get back to the main route.

    Almost right around the time that I reached the bus stop, the rain had started. While it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, if you do this walk on another day or drive by, I highly recommend Shimashoku Gino Italian restaurant located right next to the bus stop. I ate there during my first visit to the islands, and they have excellent and very reasonably priced lunch sets.

    __________

    Scenery-wise, today’s walk was a little less exciting than the previous two days, but I still enjoyed being outdoors for the better part of the day and getting a good four-hour walk in.

    The highlight of the day was the Silence by Shusaku Endo, which I am almost halfway through (200 pages long). I first heard of the book when I watched the movie adaptation by Martin Scorsese and, therefore, hesitated to read it, feeling it would feel duplicative. But how wrong I was. 

    __________

    As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the book tells the story of two Jesuit priests who, against all valid warnings, traveled to Japan during the period when Christianity was banned in Japan with systematic persecution of those who disobeyed the ban – an era that led to the formation of Hidden Christian (Kakure Kirishitan) communities. Goto Islands, thanks to the remoteness, was one of the places where the Hidden Christians found or tried to find refuge.

    Endo does an excellent job delicately delving into impossibly complicated topics of faith in the face of silence and endless forgiveness. I am not Christian, and I am not a religious person. I am, however, always intrigued (but not necessarily very pleased with) by the immense role religion plays in our societies and the question of what faith means. One of the reasons I loved Endo’s book is that, while there are many references to the Christianity, the story at its core is what faith individually means for each of us, if it means anything at all.


    Day 4: Rest day in Tomie Town

    Finishing Silence.

    ______

    Japan Meteorological Agency was right this time. It has been a persistently cloudy and rainy day. So I had the perfect weather-related excuse to have a rest day.

    After a 5 a.m. wake-up (I am an early sleeper/riser), I had a very leisurely morning. Cafe Te To Ba is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so for breakfast, I was on my own.

    Hostel Ta Bi To has a very well-stocked kitchen with a bar style sitting overlooking the small marina area. I spent more than two houses sitting in that kitchen, consuming too many cups of coffee, planning the walking routes for Wednesday and Thursday, and mindlessly looking at my phone.

    During my first visit to Tomie town, I stayed in the dorm room (4.500 Japanese Yen/night) at Ta Bi To; I this time booked the private room (for 7.500 Japanese Yen/night), which came with a queen bed, a hanger for my clothes, and a large enough desk space. If you are looking for a personal retreat to work on a project, Tomie town and the private room at Ta Bi To might might be worth looking into.

    Tomie town, located 30 minutes from Fukue Port, is home to 6.000 residents. It is one of the finest fishing villages I have ever visited in Japan. Many of the houses still keep their traditional rural Japanese house facade; there is a picturesque marina, a wonderful cafe (that I wrote about in the first day`s diary), a lively yakitori joint, a locally run grocery shop (and even a convenience store if you walk a little out of town – a rarity in a town of this small size). So it has enough distractions and facilities should you need any, but it is also a perfect place to get in the hermit mode.

    The rain also gave me a good excuse to finish Silence by Shusaku Endo. Since the book raises many (delicate) questions, I will need more time to discuss it.

    But I have to say that I loved the book much more than the movie by Martin Scorsese. While I watched the movie many times because of the mind-blowing cinematography, I never thought of it as one of Scorsese’s finest movies.

    The book that the film is based on does a much better job of presenting the two sides of the argument in terms of missionary work and shining a better light on the self-questioning that the protagonist goes through. Silence also offers a great opportunity to question a world where the righteousness of a certain set of cultural values and belief systems are deemed to be superior over others.


    Day 5: Change of plans and re-visiting Takahama Beach

    Missing the bus stop, re-visiting Goto Island`s most famous beach and a late lunch in an Italian restaurant

    _______

    My plan for the day was to catch the 6.40 a.m. bus out of Tomie town and then change buses in Sanano to get to the trailhead for the Osezaki Lighthouse (short) hike. After the hike, I would walk up north following the coastline and catch the 2.30 p.m. bus back to Tomie. The only part of the plan I could follow was the 6.40 a.m. bus.

    After missing the bus stop where I had to change buses, I quickly had to decide on a new walking route. Since the bus that I failed to get off was heading to the northern part of the island, I quickly settled on a walking path that would take me to Takahama Beach and then to the Italian restaurant (Shimashoku Gino) that I mentioned in the third day’s post for a late lunch. 

    The route would require three to four hours of a pleasant and easy walk through small settlements and Kaitsu Church that I could not see the interior of during my first trip to the islands.

    It was a cloudy day but not cold—perfect conditions for a comfortable walk. The road to Takahama Beach goes through open fields overlooked by the modest mountains of Fukue Island. At this time of year, the car traffic is very low, so you can count on having a peaceful walk.

    _______

    My pack today was unusually light thanks to the choice of camera. After saying goodbye to my 12 years old Canon 5D Mark II last year in a rather embarrassing fashion on the last day of a travel writing & photography assignment in the presence of a client, I decided to invest in two second-hand cameras – one Canon 5Ds (with 50.6 MP sensor) due to its very attractive price and my love for and comfort level with full-frame Canon DSLRs and one mirrorless full-frame Sony 7R (and 24-105 mm lens) due to my curiosity about Sony system and need (or better to say desire) to have a light camera/lens kit for long hikes.

    Two full-frame bodies and the Sony lens (all second-hand but in very good condition (I always use Map Camera in Tokyo)) came cheaper than a new Canon R5. While I still enjoy the experience of shooting with Canon much more than Sony (or any mirrorless honestly), Sony still does a reasonably good job without giving me any back pain. So I occasionally leave Canon at home/in my room and head out with only Sony, even if no hiking is involved.

    ______

    After a 1.5-hour walk, the day’s first stop was at Kaitsu Church, initially built in 1924 and re-modeled in 1962. The church, hidden along the narrow backcountry road, is known for its beautiful stained glasses. There was no one in or near the church during my visit. Even though the churches are open at all hours, I sometimes cannot help feeling like I am doing something wrong and entering a place that I should not. I know that this is not a valid feeling at all and a little (maybe very) childish, but I sometimes wonder if I would feel that way if I were a Christian or even a religious person. Also, the atmosphere, knowing the history, sometimes feels a little eerie and makes me feel a little scared (not that it takes much for me to feel scared).

    ________

    Merely 30 minutes after my brief stop at Kaitsu Church, I was already overlooking the ever-beautiful Takahama Beach and the ocean featuring every possible shade of blue on this cloudy day.Takahama Beach is one of the most famous beaches of the entire Goto Islands chain, if not the most. And when I wrote the following in the February edition of Letters from Japan, I was thinking of Takahama Beach specifically:

    What I love about the Goto Islands is the opportunity to experience traditional rural fishing village life while having access to beaches on par with those in Okinawa

    While the beach was far from evoking summer vibes in early March, I found it exceptionally relaxing, making me spend around an hour sitting on the beach and just watching the waves. Takahama is one rare beach in Japan where there are no concrete structures that take away from the beauty of the scenery or take you back to real life, it is just you and the endless ocean, you can freely dream away.

    ______

    By the time I hit the road again, it was close to noon. I planned to walk for about 1.5 hours and then catch the bus to Shimashoku Gino to not miss the last order time. Thank you to the enticing rural scenery on the road, the coffee/food truck that was miraculously open, and the sun that pushed the clouds away; it was a very fulfilling walk.

    When I arrived at the Italian restaurant Gino a little after 1:30 p.m., I was happy to see that they had a room for me. Gino is located in the middle of extensive farm fields, which never leave your sight thanks to the large windows surrounding the dining room.

    I had a pasta lunch set for 1.400 Japanese Yen that included a delicious pasta with mushroom and tomato sauce, a small salad and a coffee.

    After a 6.30 a.m. start, I was back in Tomie town at around 5 p.m., leaving me some time to walk around the town while the sun was still out, then clean up before heading out to the only yakitori joint in the village for an early dinner.


    Day 6: Goodbye Fukue Island, hello Shin-Kamigoto

    Slow morning in Tomie, and moving on to Shin-Kamigoto Island.

    ______

    On the sixth day of my trip, I woke up to a cloudy sky – the kind of clouds that were determined to keep the sun away all day, and they did. I did not mind the weather since today was a travel day, saying goodbye to Fukue Island and moving to Shin-Kamigoto for a three-night stay.

    After working on the previous day’s diaries, transferring photos to the external hard drive, and changing my travel arrangements for the return trip to Tokyo (from plane to Shinkansen to spend the whole day in Nagasaki on Sunday), I visited Te To Ba to say goodbye and have a quick breakfast (I highly recommend the orange scone and coffee breakfast set). 

    While I was the only guest at the hostel for the past three days, Ta Bi To was already fully booked for the upcoming weekend. Owners noted that this was their routine during the low season, with a lot of time in their hands with no guests during weekdays and serving to a full house (both cafe and the hostel) on weekends.

    _______

    There are multiple options for traveling from Fukue to Shin-Kamigoto, which is served by three main ports: Narao, Arikawa, and Aokata. You can take the jetfoil to Narao (30-minutes) or a slower car ferry, (90-minutes) as I did. Alternatively, you can hop on the ferry Taiko that I took on my way to the islands and get off in Aokata. All ports on Shin-Kamigoto are connected by regular bus service. 

    So whichever ferry/jetfoil works better for your schedule/budget, I would say go for it. In order to be able to have one last morning at Te To Ba and say goodbye to the owners, I decided to take the 11.45 a.m. ferry out of Fukue, which would take me to Narao Port in Shin-Kamigoto in a little over 1.5 hours after a brief stop at Naru Island – the tiny island home to Egami Church that I visited on my first day on the islands.

    When I first walked onto a passenger/car ferry in Japan (during a trip to Yakushima), I was shocked to see floor-style seating and assumed that I had gotten on the wrong ferry. While floor-style seating is still a common practice in Japan in many restaurants and houses, I did not expect the practice to be carried over to ferry transportation.

    The ferries are divided into multiple carpeted sections (including women-only ones), each, depending on the ferry, being large enough to accommodate ten to fifty people. In some of the ferries, you can also book a private family area. Pillows and carpets are usually provided, and you are free to bring your own food/drinks.

    On busier weekend mornings, you will usually encounter families going on a day trip to the islands and passing the time on the ferry by playing card games and/or having a small picnic. It is an adorable scene that always make me smile. The whole experience still sounds a little strange when writing about it, but by now, I am very used to it and find it way more comfortable than conventional chair-style seating.

    ______

    This was my second visit to Shin-Kamigoto, the second largest island among five Goto islands that I, for a long time, insisted on referring to as Nakadori. Nakadori is one of the two main islands, along with Wakamatsu, which make up Shin-Kamigoto. 

    Shin-Kamigoto is also the name of the town that was born in 2004 after the merger of Arikawa, Kamigotō, Narao, Shin-Uonome, and Wakamatsu into one large town (a common practice in Japan due to the declining population and need to increase efficiency by combining public functions/services under a single unit).

    ______

    The bus ride from Narao, the southernmost port of Shin-Kamigoto, to its northernmost port, Arikawa (where I stayed), takes a little over an hour.

    I used my time on the bus to scout walking routes for the next two days when the weather was supposed to be sunny. While I love Fukue, I find Shin-Kamigoto a more ideal place for long walks.

    The island comprises two main islands and many small ones (connected via bridges) that host hundreds of coves. Most of the car route (aka my walking route) goes through the coast, with many opportunities for detours to the small fishing villages. 

    You can get off the bus anywhere on the island (and you will want to), and I guarantee you will have a pleasant and scenic walk regardless of the route you chose. 

    Once in Arikawa, I quickly checked into my private room at Goto Backpackers Pole, run by an adorable and very well-traveled young local who works in the town office during the day and comes to the hostel after work every day. If you are planning to visit Shin-Kamigoto, I highly recommend Pole with its modern design, perfect location right by Hamagurihama Beach, and close proximity to some of the best eateries in town.

    Due to the grim weather, I was in the mood to stay in, do some reading, and watch Netflix (I re-watched Silence as I wanted to compare the book with the movie), so I was already in my PJs right after sunset. After this relatively uneventful day, I was looking forward to a 6 a.m. start the next day to make the best of sunny weather.


    Day 7: Shin-Kamigoto Island

    Shin-Kamigoto is a heaven for road walkers.

    _____

    My plan for the day was to walk in the southern part of Nakadori Island of Shin-Kamigoto. I planned a course that would take around five hours. While I had walked part of the route before, there were also sections that I had yet to explore. It was a sunny day, and I was blessed with magnificent scenery. It was one of the best days of my trip so far.

    I took the first bus from Arikawa town around 7 a.m. and got off right before the detour to Matenora Church. I did not plan to visit the church (as it was not a particularly special one) but wanted to enjoy the morning hours and light with a coastal walk along the Michidoi Bay.

    Despite the sun, it was a crispy morning, but I was fortunately prepared for it (light gloves, scarf, merino wool undershirt, etc). The walk down to Nakanora Catholic Church, arguably one of the most beautiful churches on all five Goto Islands due to its location, took a little less than two hours.

    I stopped for around 15 minutes for breakfast (the sandwich I prepared in the morning), sitting right across from a house that looked out of Miyazaki animes – a traditional Japanese house, right by the water with a private dock where a fishing boat was parked. After a brief exchange of morning pleasantries with the owner of the house, who was on her way to the garbage disposal site, I wondered how it would feel to be waking in a house like that every morning and they, after possibly all those years, can still feel in awe of the scenery surrounding their very own home.

    ______

    I am one of those people who feel the happiest during the early morning hours (to the chagrin of some of my friends when we travel together). The beautiful scenery added to my natural tendency for joyful mornings, and I was in a euphoric state. I think any travel is worth it if it gives you even only one ecstatic moment, and I am glad, after years of practice, I got better at finding those subtle experiences that would reward me with many of those moments (to the point that I sometimes feel a little too calculating during my travels).

    ______

    I arrived at Nakanora Church around the same time with a mid-size tour bus. This was the first time I encountered a group of visitors while visiting the churches on the Goto Islands. I assumed they were Korean (a country with a high rate of Christians, above 25%, according to Wikipedia). The group was led by a nun, and I suppose they were on a tour focused on Hidden Christian sites in the Nagasaki region.

    Nakanora Church is a white wooden structure located by an inlet. It was built in 1925, and a bell tower was added to the structure in 1966. Like many other churches in the region, it is a modest structure that owes its beauty mainly to its location.

    On a calm morning, the church is reflected on the water, earning it the nickname “water mirror church.” While it was a windy morning with choppy waters – thus no mirror effect, I was fortunate enough to experience the scenery during my first visit to the islands, and it is sure a sight to remember. 

    Reflection of christian church on water in Goto islands in Japan

    My next main stop was Kiri Church. But first, I made a brief stop at Wakamatsu Oura Church, which reminded me of Miyabara Church, which I visited on Fukue Island on the third day of the trip. It is a very modest building that used to be a residence, and its location is not as striking as the others—there is no nearby cove. 

    However, the Miyabara Church and Wakamatsu Oura Church evoked a sense of peacefulness that I had not felt when visiting the other churches in the region, the same feeling that I experienced when visiting impossibly cozy Swiss villages: no structure stands out on its own, instead blend in perfectly with the rural surroundings, and they collectively create an alluring, undeniably beautiful and inviting aura.

    ______

    Shortly after Wakamatsu Oura Church, I got off the main road and took the detour to Kirifurusatogo for a one-hour walk. On my way to Kiri Church, I passed fishing villages, secluded houses overlooking beautiful coves, and mesmerizing coastal scenery. It was a walk that I did before, and I would happily do it for a third time. 

    When you approach from the side of the Yamakami Shrine, which was once used by Hidden Christians for worship to disguise their true religion, Kiri Church greets you with its commanding presence.

    In “In Search of Hidden Christians of Japan,” John Dougill vividly reported his visit to the Kiri Church by recalling a dialogue with a nun he encountered during his visit. The nun who gave them a tour in the absence of the parish priest modestly apologized for the lackluster interiors, which could not keep up with the church’s iconic location.

    Honestly, I did not think the church’s bland interior design stood out compared to others, but the exterior structure felt too un-stylishly imposing for the location and, more importantly, for a country where modesty is also reflected in the architectural choices. While Dozaki Church on Fukue Island and Wakamatsu Church of Nakadori were in harmony with the surroundings, Kiri Church chose to stand out visually (but not pleasantly), to dominate the otherwise heavenly scenery.

    The final part of the walk took me to Narao, following a forest and then a coastal route. After about an hour, I was at the bus stop waiting for the bus that would take me to Arikawa, following part of the road that I had walked earlier.

    I had an early dinner at the always lovely Kamome Tei and called it a night around 9 p.m.


    Day 8: Last day in Shin-Kamigoto Island

    The morning light and goodbye Shin-Kamigoto, goodbye Goto Islands.

    ______

    On my last day on the islands, I planned to have a relaxed morning. But I was up too early, with plenty of time for too much coffee, day planning, staring at the ceiling, and phone browsing. So I was already on the road by 7 a.m. to walk to the northern part of the island that I had only briefly visited during my first visit (thanks to a local couple who gave me a tour of the entire island in their car after we met at a restaurant the night before).

    Despite the forecast that promised sunny skies all day, it was a cloudy morning and also chillier than the day before. My destination was Aosagaura Catholic Church, requiring a two-hour walk.

    As mentioned in the first day`s diary or earlier posts about the Goto Islands, I was not on some sort of pilgrimage visiting all the churches. While the period of Hidden Christianity in Japan interests me greatly as it provides so much insight into the impact of missionary work on foreign lands and Japan`s approach towards anything foreign, setting churches as a destination makes the walking route planning much more straightforward. And I, on this trip, wanted to walk as much as the weather allowed me. After a long and cold winter in Tokyo, I was craving for long and interrupted walks.

    _____

    The scenery surrounding Aosagura Catholic Church in Namago town was rather underwhelming due to the discouragingly grim weather. Still, I am sure the town feels and looks as lovely as any other small settlement in Shin-Kamigoto on a sunnier day. All the elements are there, the houses still with traditional Japanese facade, a church up on the hill overlooking the bay and a fisherman`s wharf.

    The highlight of the walk was witnessing the beautiful morning light at Maruogo at a time when the sun managed to provide a few rays of light.

    After a good morning walk, I returned to my room and finished the previous day`s diary. By the time I was done, as the weather forecast predicted, the sun was shining with all its glory.

    To make the most of the good weather, I took a bus to the southern part of the island and did another two-hour fully coastal walk, enjoying the sun without minding the strangely strong wind (that we also faced with in Tokyo all through late February and late March).

    The evening was uneventful, with an early dinner and a lovely chat with the owner at the hostel. As usual, I had an early night as I was going to catch the first ferry to Nagasaki the next morning where I would take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.

    I came to the Goto Islands for long walks and plenty of time outdoors, reading, and just relaxing. Goto, as always, turned out to be a good choice of destination and delivered on all fronts.


    Thank you for being here and reading my travel diary. For a shorter form post on Goto Islands, you can also check out this one that I posted after my first trip to the islands in 2022.

    This was part of daily travel diaries that I post daily on Substack when I go on trips. If you would like to subscribe, here is the link: Letters from Japan